the main character in skald sinking in water beneath a shipwreck

Skald: Against the Black Priory Plays Like a Bite-Sized Baldur’s Gate

There’s little debate that Baldur’s Gate 3 was the best game of last year and one of the best RPGs since The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Booting up one of these massive RPGs pretty much guarantees you’re about to lose a few hours of your day, and nevermind finishing or replaying one of these sprawling adventures that can take 50 hours or more. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I want to get my RPG fix without all the investment required. Luckily, I found the perfect game to do so: Skald: Against the Black Priory.

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This retro-inspired RPG channels the look and feel of classics like Ultima and Bard’s Tale, but without all the frustration that comes from games of that era, making it a great substitute to another playthrough of your favorite RPG epic. In the 15 hours I spent playing, the unique visual style truly brought me back a few decades while also scratching that modern RPG itch.

It even has a CRT filter that warps the screen. Awesome, right?

casting fireball in skald

What you’d expect from a game like Baldur’s Gate 3 is here: 9 varied character classes to choose from, attributes to spread, feats to select, and a little bit of appearance customization for your tiny pixel avatar. I went with the versatile Battlemagos class and dumped a ton of points into Diplomacy because I love to talk my way through quests, much the same way I maxed out Charisma in Baldur’s Gate 3. I quickly learned the Battlemagos was the right choice too, as I unlocked the dependable Magic Missile and Fireball spells early on.

Skald also has a very similar opening to Larian Studios’ award winner: you find yourself shipwrecked (instead of Nautiloid-wrecked) on a beach littered with Eldritch horrors with little equipment to your name. After assembling a small party, you’re off to figure out what’s gone wrong in the Outer Isles.

Don’t misunderstand: Skald doesn’t blatantly copy Baldur’s Gate 3. There’s a lot of differences here. For one, the tone and narrative is far darker, with a lot of pixelated gore. The narrative and character development is surface-level as well – no one is going to cosplay as Roland the Armsmaster at the next game convention you visit. Staying true to its roots, Skald has no voice acting, either. Instead, there’s mountains of exposition and dialogue to read through – so don’t forget your reading glasses – with gorgeous pixel art to set the scene.

The D&D-based combat isn’t nearly as deep, either. I had fun choosing feats for all six of the characters in my party but I rarely felt like a lot of the advanced feats were worth it in the mid-to-late game; the later battles simply boiled down to hitting enemies hard rather than using buffs and crowd control.

character art and dialogue in skald

That said, I could play Skald for 20 minutes and come away satisfied, whereas in other RPG epics I might find myself managing to talk to one NPC and before selling some unwanted items in that same timeframe. Skald’s sidequests truly do shine here: delving deep into caverns beneath a lighthouse to find a cursed blade or rescuing a sauve-pirate captain doesn’t take more than half an hour, bookending play sessions perfectly.

I also found myself wholly invested in the lore, much the same way I kept the Forgotten Realms Wikipedia page open to research the difference between Lolth-Sworn and Seldarine Drow as I explored the Underdark. Developer High North Studios crafted a truly engaging world here with a lot of dark secrets and strange happenings; I won’t spoil anything, of course, but after the sharp left-turn the ending of the game took, I’m excited to see if High North Studios will make an expanded sequel.

So if you’re like me and love RPGs but hesitate to start a new one, consider giving Skald: Against the Black Priory a shot, whether or not you hold nostalgia for the now-ancient games it was based on. It’ll definitely scratch a similar itch that Baldur’s Gate 3 gave you, tiding you over until you have the time to take another shot at the Absolute.

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Lowell Bell
Lowell is a freelance contributor with The Escapist that began his career reporting on live events such as the Penny Arcade Expo and E3 back in 2012. Over the last couple of years, he carved a niche for himself covering competitive Pokémon as he transitioned into game criticism full time. About a decade ago, Lowell moved to Japan for a year or two but is still there, raising a Shiba Inu named Zelda with his wife while missing access to good burritos. He also has a love/hate relationship with Japanese role-playing games.